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on 14 February 2016
There are many reasons to read and enjoy Ian Kelly’s life of Samuel Foote, a one legged actor of the 177s who has languished too long in the wings. Foote is interesting and relevant. He was versatile - crime writer, wit, celebrity, satirist, playwright; he was known - friend of Dr Johnson, the Doctors Hunter, Garrick and Benjamin Franklin; his story blends comedy and tragedy in equal measure and hints at the birth of celebrity culture. Foote is a puzzle, his sexuality, at times his motives, and the nature of what ailed him are not clear, though Kelly has theiories on all of these matters. While a standby of theatrical folklore Foote has for long been unknown outside the world of theatre for too long. This book does justice to his stoiry. The author has written lives of Casanova and Beau Brummell and so knows eighteenth century London well. His other career as an actor gives him insights and empathies into Foote’s working life. If the language is sometimes flowery it is hard to write of Foote without excess. Foote’s life is rather more interesting than his play, having ploughed through sevevral of his plays, the subject of so much extemporisation and topical reference, they read coldly now. His witticisms, repartee and impressions often seem cruel and I am not sure I would have enjoyed his company. His rise from debtor’s prison writing an account of family fratricide, his progress to have one of the three royal theatre patents in London bestowed on him, and bearing the name of the Theatre Royal Haymarket to this day though it was only a lifetime gift, his triumph over disabling accident and his disgrace following a criminal trial that he won are the stuff of drama, and indeed Kelly penned a play based on this biography that ran last year in Foote’s own theatre, the actor being played by the most excellent Simon Russel Beale and the King by the author himself. Methodism, madness, celebrity trials, sodomy, blackmail, disability, theatre history, family strife, debt, class, honour and uncontrolled mass media make this a heady and oh so enjoyable read. The Foote notes are helpful to anyone wanting to read up on the source material and the glossary of names is revealing and gossipy.
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on 25 July 2015
This is an excellent book on a number of levels. It gives a wonderful insight into London of the eighteenth century, the Georgian theatre and the talent of the hitherto largely unknown Samuel Foote. Mr Kelly takes us through the hilarious side of Foote's life and career, Living in the eighteenth century and making a successful living through your own talent was not for the squeamish; nor is this book. How sheltered and cocooned we are in comparison. You made it if the audience liked you no agents, no spin, just talent and Sam Foote made it. But you could also come a cropper in eighteenth century society and Sam Foote does and parts the stage in ignominy, deserted by his friends at the end. I am glad I read this book and to have found out about the man and his extraordinary life and talent.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 March 2013
I came across a review of this book on the website of the BBC History Magazine, and thought it sounded a very intriguing book. So I looked it out to read.

Samuel Foote was born probably in 1720 in Cornwall, the youngest of three boys in his family. His mother came from a well-to-do family of some lineage, but the family were for a very long time embroiled in court cases over inheritances and property. Sam's mother and her two brothers were no different, and Sam's first chance at some fame (or infamy) came in 1741 when one of his uncles was killed. The ensuing scandal and trial were utilised by Sam in writing of the events, and this helped him to get himself free of debtor's prison - the first time. Already, Sam's life was taking twists and turn unusual even in the rather rarefied atmosphere of Georgian London. Sam was clearly a character, and was well-known about town - friends with such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick. His wit and gregarious nature seems, right from the start, to have won him friends and influenced people.

Foote's next foray towards fame and fortune took him on to the stage. From there, we follow Foote's often eccentric and even rather bizzare public and private life. Along the way, we read of the Georgian staff and theatre, of eighteenth century sexual proclivities and their reception amongst Society, and the horrors of eighteenth century amputations, amongst other items of wonder and delight. Foote's rise amongst the wits, his run in the theatre and amongst well-known Society, and his scandalous fall are laid out for the reader with frank openness. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, often sad, Foote's life seems to have been a most unusual one, even for his times. This book is well written, very engaging to read, and offers a glimpse into the type of life most of us would never have dreamed could have existed. Highly recommended.
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on 29 January 2014
This would be an interesting tale if it was just about one of the biggest celebrities and most famous comedians of his age, or about a famous murder case written up and sensationalised by the nephew of both the victim and the accused, or about a Georgian sex scandal. It is all of these and more. Has a large cast of equally interesting players. And by the way the main character had his leg removed after an accident following a bet with a member of the royal family. Would make a great tv show. Sometimes went into repetitive detail about staging Footes' plays and his spats with Garrick, which is why I dropped a star. Very detailed research, evidenced in the notes.
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on 10 August 2016
I enjoyed this, though I'd never heard of Samuel Foote before coming across this book, he seems to have largely disappeared from history. It's well researched, there's a wealth of information about the period and lot of details about 18th Century theatre. Foote was an interesting character, an enterprising self-publicist and a talented performer, and this is an excellent portrait of the man and his times.
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on 15 December 2012
This is a fascinating book, intensely well written and admirably researched. Samuel Foote [I had never heard of him] was a friend and colleague of David Garrick, but while Garrick became THE successful actor, Foote specialised in a sort of dangerous satirical mimcry on stage and was, until his downfall , very successful. The book reveals a multitude of historical facts, illustrated with vivid examples from Foote's career, about the development of theatre in the mid eighteenth century; one item charts the change in styles of Shakespearean acting with particular regard to the interpretation of Shylock. Sam Foote lost a leg following an accident, and the research into the amputation procedure, written in grisly but factual detail is unforgettable; so is the suggestion [put forward by John Hunter the surgeon who attended him later] that he suffered personality disinhibition as the result of the head injury he sustained at the same time. Most interesting, to me, was the information gleaned on gay life in London in the mid eighteenth century - Sam was ultimately involved in a scandal which effectively wiped him from historical memory.
The writing is thoughtful, demanding and sometimes very funny - see the story surrounding the death of the actor who became the most famous Drury Lane ghost. I recommend it wholeheartedly, with the simple caveat that due to the quality of the writing it is not a quick read.
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on 27 December 2012
This is a book vibrant with facts newly revealed by energetic scholastic archaeology; but it is not for the faint hearted:"Mr Foote's Other Leg" was amputated on a table in a Scottish castle. However, this character actor uses his painful infirmity as a "running" gag for the rest of his combative life. This not just a stage door celebrity story; is is more a tale of a personally self-imposed disastrous life, ducking and diving in the ruthless jungle of Society, Stage, and Politics.
There is, however, a certain roughness and repetition in the structure of the book which hardly detracts from its energy, but must be mentioned.
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on 18 October 2012
Ian Kelly makes it clear from the outset that Samuel Foote is not name most are familiar with. He then spends the rest of the book posing an eloquent and highly entertaining argument as to why we should familiarise ourselves with both his name and the fascinating context in which he became both most celebrated and, subsequently, reviled man of his era.

The pace of the book is breath-taking. Kelly packs in a huge amount of detail, supported by some sumptuous illustrations, and a stomach-churning descriptions of the amputation of Foote's 'other leg'.

The read is a sumptuous romp. Highly recommended!
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on 15 October 2012
Samuel Foote was quite a guy but, despite obviously prodigious research, Ian Kelly fails to bring him fully to life.

A major stumbling block is Kelly's awkward and convoluted prose style and his odd way of laying out his story and introducing new characters. Oh, for an editor of fire!

Too bad, because he has some interesting points to make -- Foote as the first stand-up, the birth of celebrity culture, Georgian London as a harbinger of the modern media age, and so forth. I especially enjoyed his observation that a penchant for cross-dressing and transvestism is not necessarily a sign of homosexuality but merely of "Britishness."

I found the backmatter annoyingly fragmented and don't look to the footnotes for an amplification of an interesting point. They are strictly book and page references, which require further digging through several bibliographies. Then, too, some sources mentioned in the text are absent from the backmatter.

In spite of it all, I kept reading because Foote and his era are so fascinating. Devotees of Georgian literature and social history will find much of interest here, but theatre buffs, like myself, looking for a sprightly recounting of an offbeat life may find it heavy going.
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on 22 June 2013
The story of Samuel Foote is fascinating, and Ian Kelly has done a wonderful job in researching the story. Sadly the telling of it was stodgy and pedantic. A much lighter touch would have better served the tale of a great comic writer and actor. The only time the style of the writer and the content really work is in the two trials at the end of the book where the dour and meticulous writing are a good mix with what is happening at the trials.
As with some other readers I almost stopped reading in the ponderous first 3/4 of the book.
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